Stat attack!: Travelers Championship preview

By John AntoniniJune 17, 2014, 8:02 pm

Paul Goydos, displaying the kind of understated comedic timing he is known for, was once asked about what was perceived to be a weak field at a PGA Tour event. "There are plenty of major winners, here," he replied. "They just haven’t won them yet.”

That line seems to fit this week’s Travelers Championship. Several of the best players without a major are in the field this week – Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar – as are some players so young that you have to squint to see their major potential from TPC River Highlands. Five players making their PGA Tour debuts as professionals are playing in Cromwell, Conn., and that potential is there. Led by top-ranked Patrick Rodgers (shown), all five are ranked in the top 33 on the World Amateur Golf Ranking as they make the transition to pay for play. They might not win this week, but they should hit the ground running.

Players making their PGA Tour professional debut at the Travelers Championship

 Player Amateur rank Amateur highlights
 Joey Garber 31 Captain at Georgia in 2014, T2 in 2013 Southern Am
 Oliver Goss 12 2013 U.S. Am runner-up, low amateur at 2014 Masters
 Patrick Rodgers 1 11 wins at Stanford, 2013 Western Amateur champ
 Cameron Wilson 4 2014 NCAA individual champ, 2-time Met GA champ
 Bobby Wyatt 33 2014 SEC Champion, once shot 57 in Alabama Junior

It’s not often that five players of this caliber debut at the same time. It’s doubtful they’ll all win majors, but like the NFL draft’s quarterback class of 1983, it’s almost certain there are some stars in the making.

The Travelers Championship is the perfect tournament to hold the week after the U.S. Open, where long holes and fast greens can vex even the most seasoned veteran.  At TPC River Highlands, the greens are flat and the course is more than 700 yards shorter than Pinehurst No. 2. The winning score of last nine champions was lower than 10 under. Hitting greens in regulation isn’t as key as it is at a major. None of the last four Travelers champions finished as high as T-27 in GIR.  In fact, two of the last four winners weren’t in the top 10 in GIR, fairways hit or strokes gained putting.

Statistics of Travelers Championship winners: 2011-2014

 Year Player Fairways hit rank GIR rank Str. gained/putting rank
 2013 Ken Duke T-10 T-62 T-10
 2012 Marc Leishman T-15 T-28 T-48
 2011 Freddie Jacobson T-9 T-34 1
 2010 Bubba Watson T-58 T-30 T-41

Duke won for the first time in his 187th career start last year. He was the sixth player to make the Travelers Championship his first PGA Tour win in the last eight years.

First-time winners at the Travelers Championship

 Year Winner Tour start
 2013 Ken Duke 187
 2012 Marc Leishman 96
 2011 Freddie Jacobson 188
 2010 Bubba Watson 122
 2007 Hunter Mahan 122
 2006 J.J. Henry 177

It looks like our quintet of professional novices doesn't have quite enough experience to win this week. But what winless players in the field have played about 100-200 events and might be considered contenders outside Hartford? Discounting players on medical extensions and those without full status on Tour in 2013-14, there are nine winless players in the field who have played between 90 and 200 events on Tour. Some have come closer than others to winning, especially this year.

Winless players in the Travelers field with between 90-200 PGA Tour starts

 Player Previous starts Best in 2014 Best Travelers
 Ricky Barnes 171 T-9 Puerto Rico T-5, 2010
 Kevin Chappell 114 T-10 Colonial No cuts made
 Chad Collins 97 T-6 Humana No cuts made
 Erik Compton 100 T-2 U.S. Open T-30, 2013
 Brendon de Jonge 199 T-6 Wells Fargo T-8, 2012
 Graham Delaet 97 T-2 Farmers, Phoenix Third, 2013
 Bobby Gates 94 T-80 Farmers No cuts made
 William McGirt 109 T-6 Northern Trust T-30, 2013
 Nicholas Thompson 182 T-10 Colonial Fourth, 2011

Players with medical extensions who fit this category include Kris Blanks, Doug LaBelle II, Spencer Levin, John Mallinger and Steve Marino.

Playing on a course with flat greens and where birdies come fast and furious, it might stand to reason that the eventual winner would putt well from long distance. Duke made 10 putts from more than 10 feet last year and made a tidy 50 percent of his putts from 15-20 feet in 2013.  There are five players in the Travelers field who averaged more than six putts made per event from beyond 10 feet. Keep in mind, this doesn’t count events, such as majors, where ShotLink lasers are not available on all courses.

Tour leaders in putts made per event of 10+ feet who are in the Travelers field

 Player Tour rank 10+ putts made per event
  Matt Kuchar 5 6.9
 Sergio Garcia 6 6.8
 Sang-Moon Bae 9 6.3
 Jason Day T-12 6.2
 Harris English T-12 6.2

One notable performance aspect at the Travelers Championship is that star players have multiple successes there. Bubba Watson won in 2010 and was second in 2012. Hunter Mahan had a win and two seconds in a three-year stretch. Ryan Moore has had a pair of seconds. The three players have outstanding records in this event.

Watson, Mahan and Moore at the Travelers

  Starts Top 10s Wins Seconds Scoring avg.
 Hunter Mahan 12   1 2 68.12
 Ryan Moore 8   0 2 67.73
 Bubba Watson 7   1 1 67.42

One final note: When Duke won a year ago at age 44 he was the oldest player to get his first PGA Tour victory since Ed Dougherty, who was 47 when he won the 1995 Deposit Guaranty Classic (now Sanderson Farms). Duke was the fifth player to win the tournament in a playoff in the previous 10 years.

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x